How Can You Engage a Diverse Range of Girls in Technology?

Too often, educational policies and public rhetoric assume that girls — and in particular, girls of color — lack the interest, ability, or stamina required for computing courses and careers. However, decades of constructivist (and constructionist) educational research reveal fundamental flaws with these “deficit” views. This research, instead, illustrates the powerful potential of educational approaches that 1) assume all students can succeed, 2) make curriculum meaningful and relevant, and 3) connect knowledge and learning to students’ strengths, interests, and prior experiences.

Culturally responsive pedagogies (CRP) share much in common with these constructivist approaches, but they also stress the importance of paying attention to how students’ interests, needs, and prior experiences vary in terms of race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation. CRP helps students connect learning to these multiple, intersecting identities and to consider how issues of power, equity, and culture relate to education and to society at large.

Culturally responsive computing (CRC), in particular, helps youth examine the relationship between technology, identities, cultures, and communities. In short, a chief goal for CRC is to involve girls in becoming technosocial change agents — that is, individuals who can interrogate and intervene in existing societal and power relations even as they design new technologies. CRC helps address three existing limitations of computing education.

  • First, CRC moves beyond approaches that target girls as a fixed demographic group. CRC instead stresses the social construction of identity, helping students ask questions about what it means to “be a girl or boy” and how these kinds of identities shape their decisions about future education and careers.

  • Second, CRC moves beyond approaches that focus only on gender. Instead, CRC highlights the importance of intersectionality. Educators and students ask questions about how race, class, sexuality, and ability, shape the curriculum, technology, and students’ lives in different ways.

  • Third, CRC challenges the assumption that computing education will inevitably lead to better opportunities for girls. While both education and technology can open up exciting opportunities, they often reproduce existing biases and inequalities in new ways. CRC helps students ask questions about language and power and encourages them to re/create technologies that challenge existing biases, power relations, and conditions in their local communities and beyond.

 

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE COMPUTING: FIVE TENETS

(adapted from Scott, Sheridan & Clark, 2014)

  • All students are capable of technical innovation.

  • The learning context supports transformational use of technology — that is, students are encouraged to innovate and create for their own purposes not follow prescribed instructions or carry out educators’ pre-conceived projects.

  • Interest and ability in technical innovation is fostered when students examine connections between technology, computing, and their emerging identities.

  • Connecting technology with community issues is vital for engaging diverse youth and transforming existing social conditions.

  • Measures of program success should include assessment of critical literacies and account for who creates, for whom, and to what ends.


References

  • Ashcraft, C., Eger, E., & Friend, M. (2012). Girls in IT: The Facts. National Center for Women & Information Technology.
  • Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Education Research Journal, 35, 465-491.
  • Margolis, Jane, with Rachel Estrella, Joanna Goode, Jennifer Jellison Holme, and Kim Nao 2008 Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Scott, K.A., Sheridan, K.M., & Clark, K. (2014). Culturally responsive computing: A theory revisited. Learning, Media, & Technology, 1-25.

View related case study:

 

Authors: Catherine Ashcraft and Elizabeth Eger